COMPTON — Early one morning last week, more than 1,000 parents and children, along with dozens of younger brothers and sisters in arms or in strollers, streamed through the gates of Jefferson Elementary School for their first look at their new school.
Not everything was perfect on opening day Tuesday.
A few classes had to double up because construction was incomplete on some classrooms.
The electricity was not hooked up, so the new air-conditioning did nothing to lower the sweltering temperatures.
The restrooms were not ready on time, so workmen were unloading portable toilets at the same time students were arriving.
The few inconveniences did nothing, though, to diminish the enthusiasm of the Jefferson School community.
"It's just like Christmas to the parents and children," said Sylvia Perez, whose two sons attend Jefferson. "It's just like moving into a new house."
The old Jefferson School was composed almost entirely of portable classrooms that were decayed, termite-infested and so old that nobody in the district could remember when they arrived. There are only four permanent classrooms at the school. The cafeteria, library and restrooms were all housed in the substandard portables too.
Generations of Jefferson children attended classes in the dilapidated wooden buildings. "I went to this school when I was growing up and I'm 32 years old," said Jeff Arviso. "It's about time they put some money into this."
Trustees of the Compton Unified School District voted to replace the old buildings with new ones only after The Times found an engineering report saying the old buildings did not meet earthquake and fire safety standards. In August, bulldozers knocked down the rows of old bungalows.
"I'm surprised there's school at all. I didn't think it was going to be ready," said Jenine Arviso. She and her husband, Jeff, have two sons at the school.
"I've seen parents coming in saying, 'We're going to get involved,' " Perez said. "The morale was always low for the parents and the teachers."
Jefferson has long been a community gathering place for the Latino families that began crowding into the north side of Compton before World War II.
"At Christmas we won't have to climb on the tables to see the performance," said another parent, Zenaida Domingo, as she eyed the new cafeteria foundation.
The cafeteria will not be completed for more than a month, but it will be large enough to double as an auditorium. Like the new classrooms, it is a modular building.
On the first day of school, teachers took their classes on tours of the campus because the 22 new buildings have been placed in a different configuration.
"Remember now, where will you pick up your little brother from kindergarten?" teacher Lolita Alejo said by way of driving home the point that the three kindergarten classrooms have been moved to the opposite corner of the campus.
For school administrators such as Kenneth Flood, who supervised the work at Jefferson, creating a new school in little more than six weeks was almost "Mission Impossible." Contractors had to work seven days a week and Flood and other administrators did not know until opening day whether they would make the deadline.
There were contingency plans for almost everything. "Just don't let it rain," said Flood, who has arranged for sack lunches to be distributed outside every day until the cafeteria is finished.
With last-minute registration, with parents and children trying to find the right classrooms, and with workmen still on the site, Principal Alfredia Nabors was maintaining an air of calm.
"I told the teachers, 'Do not panic.' If they remain(ed) calm, the kids would be calm. The parents would be calm," Nabors said.
"Did you see all the parents that were here this morning," Nabors added joyfully. "They were thrilled. Everybody was here to see it."